26th Nov2020

‘Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro’ Review

by Jason Brigger

Featuring: Ian Hodgkinson, Kevin Arturo Geist, Dasha Hodgkinson | Written and Directed by Michael Paszt

Nail in the Coffin is a documentary that is part wrestling documentary and part human interest story that will appeal to both wrestling and non-wrestling fans. The documentary balances the career of Vampiro the wrestler while showcasing the importance of second chances and being a father.

Nail in the Coffin follows Ian Hodgkinson, better known as the wrestler Vampiro, from his early days playing hockey in Canada to his success in Mexico’s luchador wrestling scene to signing a lucrative contact in the late 1990s with WCW to his life now, as booker for Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide (“AAA”). Along the way, a cautious tale unfolds that is not new to wrestling fans as Ian becomes addicted to alcohol, drugs and the thrill of the roaring crowd, much to his body and doctor’s chagrin.

I grew up with wrestling and to this day, I still love it, but I was unfamiliar with Vampiro outside of his time wrestling in the Unites States for the WCW. The documentary does a phenomenal job of providing backstory of how Ian left everything behind in Canada to pursue his passion in wrestling. The film highlights his time as the rising star and possibly the “chosen one” in Mexico to being noticed in the United States and signing the “big money” contract with WCW. Unfortunately the WCW did not know how to properly showcase Vampiro, a common issue back in the late 1990s, and after breaking his neck, Vampiro eventually transforms himself back into Ian as he eventually transitions into the role of a wrestling booker (determining who wins, directing a match, etc.) for AAA.

Perhaps the most surprising of the documentary is the focus of Ian in his role as father to his teenage daughter, Dasha. His daughter provides balance to Ian’s life, but his love for his daughter is also the cause of the greatest conflict for him: learning how to make a living and provide a great life for her when his best wrestling days are behind him. It’s a crossroads all athletes must face, and Nail in the Coffin excels by balancing Vampiro’s past with Ian’s future. The storyline of Ian’s daughter is one I was not expecting in the documentary but thankfully this pleasant surprise makes the documentary that much stronger and more grounded.

The Good:

  • The History of Vampiro. As mentioned above, learning about Ian’s inspiration for creating the character of Vampiro and his feud, both on-screen and off, with fellow Mexican wrestling legend Konnan is another highlight of the documentary. Most American wrestling fans remember Vampiro for his three lackluster years in the WCW, but Nail in the Coffin is able to show how truly unique and different Vampiro was for wrestling. The film showcases his time in the Mexican wrestling scene as the “new kid” that would take punishment upon punishment, much to the determinant of his body, in order to please the fans and earn respect from his fellow wrestlers. By providing clips of his previous promos and matches in Mexico, one can fully appreciate just how popular and unique of a character of Vampiro truly was in Mexico. Plus, we get to see old footage of Konnan owning a lion cub at his house and who doesn’t want to see that?
  • The Role of a Wrestling Booker. Outside of a few return matches that he must be persuaded to do, Ian at 50-years-old is now a booker for AAA and it is a natural fit. Throughout the documentary, we see a glimpse behind-the-curtain of how a booker creates a wrestling pay-per-view and the painstaking hours that goes into making it a “perfect” show. From soothing the fragile egos of veteran wrestlers to providing guidance to the younger athletes to even directing the cameramen, Ian is shown time and again how his decades in the sport has led him to be exactly where he needs to be. Wrestling fans will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look of what happens during the biggest pay-per-view in Mexico and the cameos of wrestlers just adds to the appeal.

The Bad:

  • The Ugly Side of Wrestling. Through no fault of the filmmaker, the documentary has to show the bad of the wrestling industry in order to fully tell Vampiro’s story. Just like any full-contact sport, the athletes’ bodies are usually the ones that pay the ultimate price. While no one is forcing these athletes to wrestle, play football, etc., it is still hard to watch these events and not feel bad for cheering them while they are literally destroying their bodies. Nail in the Coffin does show the good of wrestling in the form of Ian’s passion for the sport and the thrill of being cheered by thousands of adoring fans but the bad side is when the film becomes uncomfortable to watch, especially when Ian visits his doctor and advises him that he has had approximately two dozen concussions in his career. While it’s important for the documentary to show this side of wrestling, it’s difficult to watch Ian as he is caught in the middle of wanting to take care for his teenager daughter but also the need for him to come out of retirement one too many times in order to provide for her.

The Middling:

  • The End. This is a documentary that does a tremendous job of detailing Ian/Vampiro’s journey from growing up in Canada and uprooting his life to chase his dream as a wrestler in Mexico, with several detours along the way, but it fails to stick the landing at the end. The film seems to abruptly end just when I wanted to see a little more of the journey. Nail builds up Ian’s job as a booker for AAA and how much devotion he puts into planning the federation’s major pay-per-view, TripleMania, but we never get that final pinnacle moment found in most documentaries. This small issue doesn’t deter from an otherwise solid documentary, but it also doesn’t give the viewers the full satisfaction of an appropriate ending.

Final Grade: B (Good)

Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro is a must-watch for any wrestling fan but also for anyone that is interested an athlete’s life away from the spotlight. Director Michael Paszt does a phenomenal job of getting Ian to open up about the good and the bad of his career and personal life, while providing the viewers a rare glimpse into the life of a very complex person. By including Ian’s daughter, the center of his world, into the documentary, Paszt is able to showcase the path of redemption for Ian and at the end of the day, a man’s journey to be a good father for his daughter. This is not a perfect documentary, but is one of the stronger documentaries of the year, one that will pull the viewer into a world not often seen on screen.

You can watch Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro on most Video on Demand services or purchase on Blu-Ray at Epic Pictures.

You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Amazon Music and other podcasting apps. 
You can listen to their latest episode right here.
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